MARQUETTE - Food systems specialist Ken Meter had sobering news for farmers and those with vested interests in sustaining local food who were gathered on Northern Michigan University's campus Wednesday: farmers in the central Upper Peninsula are simply not making money.
"In (just) seven of the last 25 years, farmers have made more money than it costs to sell their products," Meter said. "Farmers make $3.4 million less today than they did 40 years ago, despite doubling their products."
Meter was the keynote speaker in the U.P. Food Exchange's local food summit "Together at the Table," held all day Wednesday in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center.
Above, Local food systems expert Ken Meter discusses the Central Upper Peninsula Food Hub during a local food summit Wednesday. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark) At right, produce is shown at Rock River Farm’s Booth. (Journal file photo)
An expert in the field of local food, Meter is the president of Minneapolis-based Crossroads Resource Center and spends his time traveling the country analyzing local food systems.
And though Meter is often the bearer of bad news he has plenty of hope for the local food movement.
"Local food is the single best thing we can do to promote economic recovery in the United States," he said, noting that if every resident in the Central U.P. Food Hub were to spend $5 buying directly from farmers in the region every week, an extra $45 million in new revenue would be generated locally.
Currently, Meter said local consumers buy more than $400 million in food annually that is sourced from outside the six-county region that comprises the Central U.P. Food Hub.
"I would say this is very generous of you to the rest of the country," Meter quipped.
Meter said to help improve the food system in the Central U.P., more incentives need to be provided to livestock raisers - an occupation becoming increasingly rare locally as farmers find there's little money to be made in the industry - and local residents need to increase their purchasing of locally sourced food products, even if by only a small percent.
The participants in the local food summit also took part in two panel discussions, with local food leaders answering questions on how they solved some of the most basic problems with sourcing locally.
Participants were also treated to a locally sourced lunch, prepared by NMU culinary staff with food from several area farms.
To view Meter's full report, visit www.crcworks.org/crcdocs/miupCENTsum13.pdf.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.